The Crowd

This month we’re soliciting for submissions to the next issue of qarrtsiluni, which Beth and I are editing ourselves — no guest editors this time. The theme is “The Crowd.” If you have poems, prose or artwork that might fit, please see the call for submissions. The deadline is June 30. Here’s our theme description:

The crowd, the flock, the herd, the mob, the swarm, the tribe: we are simultaneously fascinated and repelled by this super-organism, capable at times of great beauty and even wisdom (cf. The Wisdom of Crowds) and at other times of appalling ugliness and violence. Aristotle defined humanity as an animal whose nature it is to live in a polis, but in all ages we seem incapable of deciding whether this is a good or bad thing; one commentator’s inspiring revolutionary struggle is another’s mob rule. For the next issue of qarrtsiluni, we are open to all perspectives, positive and negative, historical and biological, on crowds and other aggregations of social animals. Inspiration can be sought in the ecstasy and fervor of the stadium, the battalion, the game, the march, the final episode, the fad, the stampede — or the collective consciousness in general. With the planet’s burgeoning human population threatening to exceed our ecological carrying capacity, and so many crises now requiring urgent collective action, it seems imperative for artists and writers, so often antisocial ourselves and preoccupied with the struggles of individuals, to turn our attention to sociality in its most vital and basic form.

We decided to eliminate our unreliable online contact form and ask people just to submit by email, and I’ve been intrigued by the variety of salutations people use in their cover letters. First-time submitters tend of course to be more formal. We’ve gotten:

  • Dear Editors,
  • Dear Editor:
  • Hello Editors,
  • hi dear Editor,
  • Hello,
  • Dear Editor,
    online literary magazine.
  • Dear Beth Adams and Dave Bonta,
  • Dear Beth and Dave,

Repeat submitters, especially those we’ve published in the past, tend to favor “Hi Beth and Dave” or some variation, which mirrors our own preference for “Hi [First Name]” in responding to submissions. We did get one “Hello q crew,” which gave me a chuckle.

It seems I’m far from alone in finding “Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. _____” stuffy and out-of-date for electronic communications, and I almost never close with “Sincerely,” either (nor do qarrtsiluni contributors). And yet “Dear ____” and “Sincerely” still seem perfectly natural for paper letters. Odd how the physicality of a letter elicits greater formality, as if we were not merely addressing the recipient but also to some extent acknowledging the presence of the paper, too. Or more likely, the artifactual nature of a paper letter triggers expectations and responses from one’s past associations with such artifacts, a sort of muscle memory reinforcing norms of epistolary tradition at odds with the more speech-like ways in which we typically deploy email. It’s interesting to see how these styles mingle in the electronic versions of highly convention-bound communications such as the cover letter for a submission to a magazine.

7 Replies to “The Crowd”

  1. I think what your final paragraph demonstrates is that a “letter” is actually nothing to do with the paper it’s written, typed or printed upon. A “letter” is a particular format for communication that usually begins with “Dear” and ends with “Sincerely/Faithfully”. As opposed to a “memo”, which begins with “To:” and ends (in my experience anyway) with some form of passive-aggressive warning of the dire consequences that will result from failing to follow the instructions in its contents.

    So, when people submit to qarrtsiluni (which you describe as a “magazine” despite the absence of paper – another example of format and physical medium being two entirely separate things) they’re aware of the convention to send a “cover letter” to the “magazine” and that’s exactly what they do, even though the underlying medium might be electronic.

    On a tangentially related note, when my nieces and nephews are texting away to each other with LOLs and Ks and l8rs, I like to point out to them that I was doing that stuff on IRC before most of them were even born. That’s another example of a format for communication being transferrable across different, related media.

  2. Interesting.

    I’m all for informality, never confuse formality with respect and usually go straight to Hi and first names except with those who are clearly much more senior/eminent than me, in which case I’d leave it up to them to do this first, but rather expect that they would and be disappointed if they don’t.

    However, when submitting something to Qarrtsiluni or any other publication I would always start with Dear Editors, rather than Hi Beth and Dave – or whoever – however well I happen to know these particular editors. I guess this is to make it very clear that I take it for granted my submission will be treated on the same basis as those of potential contributors who are strangers to the editors.

  3. It is interesting.

    For formal subs to or from people I don’t know, I don’t mind “Dear Editors” – in part because using whole names (“Dear Jane Doe, Nom DuWeb and Pseudo Nym”) is sometimes just clunky in a salutation and I hate “Dear Mrs. Smyth” even more than “Dear Mr. Smyth” (both of which I get all the time, even though you’d think people are more sensible these days than to assume everyone is either married or a man). I guess some people find “Dear Editors” too general or chilly, but if there are two or more or it’s not clear who will actually be reading something, it seems the best balance.

    If I know who’s who and need to show that I paid attention (as with the numerous journals where someone angrily notes on their submissions page ‘send to the right editor in the right department – by name!!!!’) I’ll usually err on the side of using a whole name. Responding to people I don’t know, I might use the whole name because I don’t like assuming it’s appropriate or welcome to write to “William Stranger” with a “Hi Bill.”

    To me, the approach of using last-name-only to evade difficulty with Mr./Ms. or over-familiarity just ends up sounding like a lazy shout-out on a playground, even if it is prefaced by “Dear.”

    After a first communication, if someone invites me to use their first name, and/or responds to an inquiry by using mine, I’ll usually switch over at that point (usually email #2, these days). If I’ve known people for a long time, I’ll be a lot less formal from the start – regular contributors, journals & editors I know well, etc.

    I have one friend who obstinately and with great love for paper letters treats every email – regardless of how short – as one. It always begins “Dear,” has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and closes with an appropriate-to-the-relationship parting. Because there is never a mention of a deposed Prince in need of funds, these feel special and elicit a much more thought-through and literate response from me: the amount of energy he put in to letters what I want to give back, I find.

    LENGTH of communications with submissions is the thing that bugs me. And density. A submission cover letter, to me, should include what the editor(s) asked for: no more, no less. Warm greeting, what I’m sending, warm parting, and if they asked for one, a separate (short) bio.

    I LOVE “Dear q crew.” But I bet a repeat-contributor did it. : )

  4. Yes, I wouldn’t write ‘dear editor(s) if writing to a particular section/department of a large publication, of course, but address the person by name, unless I was quite sure the email address would only go to the right person. And if addressing them by name I would say Dear Dave Bonta or Dear Beth Adams not Dear Mr Bonta or Dear Ms Adams, which is just not my style, too kinda straight for anything but strictly commmerce.

  5. The creative variations keep coming in. We just got “Dear Editors Beth and Dave” and “Dear Editors (Ms. Adams and Mr. Bonta),” both from first-time submitters. I continue to feel, despite the cogent arguments to the contrary by the esteemed Mr Hg above, that the informality of email is making itself felt in this blend of styles we’re seeing, though doubtless other factors are at work, too. I like Jean’s suggestion that a certain level of formality might be dictated by a writer’s desire not to be given special treatment.

  6. (Incidentally, I hope it goes without saying that we at qarrtsiluni are fine with any style of salutation, or none at all.)

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